Why we switched to biodegradable packing peanuts

Frontier Co-op customers are smart people, and it’s not uncommon for us to hear questions that start with, “Why do you …?” This first post in our new “Why We” series explains a simple but important topic: Why we use biodegradable packing peanuts in our shipments.

By Alan Miles

We’ve answered a lot of questions from our customers about our packing peanuts — both before and after our switch to biodegradable ones in 2008. The switch itself answered most of the questions we had gotten before, which were basically variations on “How can you keep sending us polystyrene packing peanuts that are a mess to deal with, pollute our planet and take hundreds of years to decompose?”

The answer then was that it was very difficult to find something truly sustainable to do the job of protecting the wide variety of packaging (including glass) that we ship. We tried various biodegradable materials with mixed responses from customers and discouraging shipping costs.


The compact, starch-based pellets we bring in are 1/28 the volume of the biodegradable packing peanuts we puff them into for use in shipments.

Problem solved

We’re as happy as our greenest customers to have finally found the right solution — and to have accomplished one of our major sustainability objectives. We enjoy answering the questions that we’re getting now, which are basically variations on “What’s the deal with the new packing peanuts?”

The peanuts we’ve found not only do a great job of protecting our products and quickly biodegrade — they reduce shipping emissions and save us money, too.

Each pallet of pre-puffed starch pellets (made from corn or potatoes) we bring in produces enough biodegradable peanuts to fill a 53-foot trailer. Here in the Midwest, manufacturers typically haul that truck from Minneapolis, Minn. With our shipping volume, we’d need a full-truck shipment at least once a week. Instead, we bring in four pallets of compact, starch-based pellets twelve times a year to make all the packing peanuts we need on-site.  (We’ve purchased a machine which takes the compact starch pellets and puffs them up into the fluffy peanuts that protect your orders.) We ship in about 1/28 the volume of the puffed peanuts and eliminate the emissions from 40 truck hauls — each burning about 42 gallons of diesel. With a savings of roughly $78,000 in shipping costs per year, our switch to more sustainable packing peanuts paid for itself in less than a year.

Totally sustainable shipping

The starch peanuts meet the two goals we have for all of our shipping materials: 1. We want to protect the products you buy from us; 2. We want to minimize our impact on the environment.

How we package shipments is now more sustainable in every way — from the packing peanuts to our recyclable boxes to the soy-based ink we use for printing. The products you order from Frontier Co-op are packaged with only 100-percent biodegradable material, and we also asked suppliers to not use polystyrene packing peanuts in their shipments to us.

You can help

You can help the environment by reusing the boxes and packing peanuts we ship to you for your own packing needs. At the end of their life cycles, the cardboard can be recycled, and the packing peanuts can be disposed of ecologically by tossing them into a compost bin where they will dissolve with water.

Alan MilesAbout the Author: Alan explores ideas and issues related to a sustainable lifestyle — from cooking and culture to social and environmental responsibility. He enjoys Shakespeare, but not as much as college basketball (Go Hawks!). Alan is a family man, liking nothing better than spending time with his wife of 35 years, his four kids and four grandkids.

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